'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Qutub and Mister Tim

The travel writing of Tim MacKintosh Smith has been one of my recent 'discoveries'.

1. On approaching the Qutub Minar, MacKintosh Smith wrote thus ("The Hall of a Thousand Columns"):

From a distance, it could almost be a work of nature, perhaps the defoliated trunk of a giant redwood; as you approach, it grows, faster and bigger than perspective should permit; and then, the details come into focus - alternating sharp and rounded ribs, balconies melting geometrically into stalactites, broad bands of calligraphy ...

And here is what Yours Truly recorded a couple of years back, right here (the post titled 'Delhi - 2'):

From afar (the Metro line), the near-millennium old tower looks stumpy and clumsy of design. A two-kilometer walk from the Qutub station gets one up close and personal with the monument and now, with the higher storeys greatly foreshortened, its proportions turn amazingly graceful. Among the five stages, the lower three - fluted, faced with red sandstone and with balconies, intricate designs and calligraphy - are undoubtedly far more beautiful than the top two (those two have suffered from medieval restoration attempts). Indeed, the latter look like a pair of rooks from a cheap set of chessmen...


2. Mackintosh Smith has more to say on the Qutb: of the most exciting surfaces in Indo-Muslim architecture. Robert Byron, in one of his rare crass moments, dismissed it as 'Indian and painstaking'. REaching the base of the Minar, I wished I could bring him back and make him eat his words beneath the triumphant fanface of flutes, flanges and cornices.... Ibn Batuta said correctly that the Qutb was "without equal in the lands of Islam".

And I had written - with considerably less authority and panache:

"It was curious to see at the Qutb ornament in the Seljuk style carved out of stone instead of stucco. The virtue goes out of it in this other material; it becomes Indian and painstaking, and loses its freedom." - that was Robert Byron in 'Oxiana'. I have not seen Seljuk architecture.... (and) I can't dispute a Master's verdict. But I loved the Qutub, at least the lower three floors, loss of freedom and whatever!


3. In this segment, let me quote myself first:

Another enigmatic building here is the sad stump of the Alai Minar. Alauddin Khilji had planned it to be twice as tall as the Qutub but the project evidently did not get anywhere much (aside: if it did, Qutub Minar would have become ... well, Qutub Minor). The massive walls of Alai, to my surprise, have no neat masonry - no proper bricks or stone blocks - only randomly shaped stones embedded in mortar. Maybe the Qutub too has such a chaotic interior within its neat sandstone coat; maybe even the Taj Mahal, for all its marbly splendor. Indeed, if Wiki got it right, this rubble masonry resists earthquakes better than 'unit masonry'!

And let the last word on this be Mister Tim Sir's:

"Ala al Din.. wished to build in the western courtyard an even bigger minaret, but had completed only a third of it by the time of his death... My field of vision was filled by the rubble stump of the aborted mega minar, rising on its plinth like a gigantic flan-mould on a baking tray. It lacked the opulently carved freestone casing of the Qutb Minar and the crevices in its flanged surface were perches for brilliant green parrots... .

Martin (artist Martin Yeoman. He illustrates and cover-designs M'Smiths travelogs) was looking underwhelmed: "But it's all a con, I mean, these buildings aren't solid stone. They are just rubble with a skin on top."

"Ah, never judge a book by its cover..."

He wasn't listening. "Are they all like that?"

I nodded. "What, even the Taj Mahal?"

"Even the Taj Mahal!"


Note: And like Ibn Batuta did, M'Smith wanted to measure the Iron Pillar with his head scarf. A fence put up by the Archeological Survey botched his plans, just as it put paid to my own hopes of using my two-meter armspan to grasp the object in a backwards embrace.

I also thank M'Smith for introducing me to the Mishkal Masjid, Kozhikode - one of the most remarkable of Keralan buildings (am judging from pictures), one that I even did not know existed till the other day!


  • At 10:24 AM, Blogger Rajesh said…

    bout the panache part, I too might have had a quibble at some point -especially on the one on Nila where a tapestry of beautiful thoughts occasionally marred by seemingly careless choice of words!

    But I could care less as long as the thoughts are original and not compromised for the sake of sounding better. Keep looking around and write please.

  • At 10:27 AM, Blogger Rajesh said…

    And thanks for the recco.

  • At 8:18 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks for the visit Rajesh, and for the appreciation.

    i do try to choose words with care but i find it extremely difficult to achieve the right effect. shall keep trying though; and as you would have noticed, the posts here keep getting edited!


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